Strawberries are synonymous with spring and summer.
Of late we have had some strawberry overload, powered by greed. Would you resist strawberries at less than dollar a pound? Neither did I.
I only wish that I was saying that we went strawberry picking in our backyard, with the girls and the basket – the kind in family movies and story books you know. I did dream a lot when I planted the strawberries and even more when we picked a few. I did not even complain that they were tiny. Our strawberries plants have a couple of flowers but no more fruits. All they are doing are growing longer limbs and stretching and gripping far and wide. This is our first time and we have no idea what to expect from them. So we have just let them be. Only once in a while I go and talk to them.
Chutneys play a vital role in Bengali cuisine. Known to have a serious case of sweet tooth, we Bengalis need to end a meal on a sweet note; more like a dessert, but usually eaten in smaller amount than a real dessert. Usually a heap in a spoon is all that we need.
My maa would always, always have chutney in the refrigerator and most of the times in this container (the blue bowl below).
I got this beautiful bowl back with me filled with even prettier memories when she was no more with us. It sits on my shelf where I can see it often - and think of her. Back home we would have chutneys with seasonal produce – tomatoes, green papaya, pineapple, dates and raisins and some more. A little sweet, a little spicy and the subtle flavor of the spices made it different from any other kind – almost like a spiced preserve.
I thought strawberries would be good, since I already had plenty of them. My dad is here with us and I am enjoying the more traditional kind of meals with him everyday, which otherwise I do not make for only myself. So the chutney has become a need now.
The word Chutney here spells a different meaning and used in a quite different ways than drawing a line to a meal. And that is good. I love it with cheese and crackers, or spread on a good sour dough bread, or even stirred in with yogurt.
Well do find you own ways to love it!
Spiced Strawberry Chutney
Ingredients: (makes approx. 10 -12 oz)
- 1.5 – 2 lbs strawberries, washed & hulled
- 1 cup sugar/brown sugar (adjust to taste – add more or less to how tart or sweet you want it to be)
- juice of half lemon + zest of 1 lemon (or orange)
- 1/2 teaspoon oil
- 1 teaspoon Panch Phoron * , divided
- 1-2 red dry chili pepper (keep them whole if you do not want it spicy)
- 1/2 inch ginger, peeled and grated
*Panch Phoron: This is a five mix spice. “Panch” means “five”.
The following spices are used in equal amounts:
- Cumin seed
- Radhuni/ (use black Mustard Seeds if no Radhuni)
- Nigella seed
- Fennel seed
Wash and hull strawberries. Slice the strawberries, each into 3 – 4 slices. Combine berries with sugar in a large stainless steel/non reactive bowl; let stand for about half an hour.
Heat a small skillet and very lightly roast 1/2 teaspoon Panch Phoron. It will be fragrant and make sure you do not burn it. It is little in amount and will burn very quick. Cool and grind it in a coarse powder (using a rolling pin or a mortar and a pestle). Set aside.
Heat oil in a pan and add the Panch Phoron and the red dry chili pepper(s). When the spices sizzle add the strawberries and ginger and bring strawberries to a boil slowly, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice and zest. Cook rapidly till it comes to a full boil, & then reduce heat to medium & gently boil until strawberry mixture is clear/glassy and mixture is thick & mounds on a spoon with a very slow drip, about 15-20 minutes. It will have jam/preserve like consistency.
Sprinkle the roasted Panch Phoron and stir gently. Cool and store in a clean air tight container. It will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
Serve as a condiment. Traditionally in Bengal, this sort of sweet/spicy chutney culminates a meal, but the chutney has many uses and further more when you can get creative.
(May be used as jam/preserve, spread, chutney, compote, sauce)
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes
Serves/Makes: approx. 10 -12 oz
Difficulty Level: Easy